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In 1977, Dean Ornish set out to show that the benefits he experienced from the study of yoga and applying those techniques to a change in lifestyle could result in improved health for coronary patients. Over a period of 17 years, he and his collaborators in the medical field demonstrated in controlled clinical trials that moderate to severe coronary artery disease could often be reversed without surgery or drugs. Ornish realized that surgical techniques such as heart bypass or angioplasty were most of the time a failure. In up to 50% of the cases, bypasses close again within 5 years and have to be repeated. Likewise, angioplastied arteries clog again within 6 months in half the cases. There had to be a better way.
In his first 30 day test with a number of heart patients, Ornish showed that a program based on yogic discipline resulted in some amazing statistics. Chest pain from angina was reduced by 90%. Serum cholesterol dropped 20%. Exercise tolerance increased 63% and tests showed that the blood supply to the heart muscle (myocardial perfusion), important in preventing heart attack, had improved. Arterial blockages grew smaller and patients even reported less anxiety and depression.
Ornish learned something else valuable in the first tests. A very slight shift in the descriptive wording of the techniques could help the Western medical mind find the program more accessible. "Yogic techniques" became "comprehensive lifestyle change." "Ayurvedic" diet became "low-fat, low cholesterol." The "asanas" (postures) of yoga became "stretching exercises" and were supported by "breathing exercises" and "relaxational skills." Hey, when in Rome... The shift toward accessibility worked. At the same time, a change in attitude was taking place in the way Western medicine was viewing alternative therapies. The public was demanding it, the evidence was making sense and Ornish's work was speaking their language: "controlled clinical proof."
After years of productive studies, a shift in establishment awareness and the publication of his work in medical literature and his book, "Dr. Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease," the program became large-scale.
OMAHA LEADS THE WAY BY MUTUAL CONSCENT
Sheila McGuire is the manager of diagnostic services at Immanuel's Heart Institute. "Since we decided to bring the Ornish Program here, Mutual of Omaha has been very supportive," she confirms. "Others (insurance companies) go case-by-case."
Going on-line with the Ornish Program in October of 1993, Immanuel became the first hospital in the country to offer the program. Since then, the Heart Institute has added to the research. "PET scans have shown that blood supply to the heart has either improved or stabilized in 88% of the cases studied," Sheila goes on to say. "These findings are so encouraging that we are in the process of evaluating the application of some of these techniques to other diseases as well. Chronic diseases like diabetes or cancer are being looked at and may well be shown to respond favorably."
"Many of the things appropriate for the Ornish Heart Program may be appropriate for other diseases as well," according to Scot Stangl, P.A., who is the Specialist in Medical Case Management at Mutual of Omaha. "We are interested in modifying the treatment of an existing disease that a patient has if that modification can improve the quality of life. Heart disease is by far the leader in those high-impact diseases that affect that quality. Others are diabetes and asthma." Scot notes that "One of the studies we are looking at shows that controlling blood sugar levels in diabetics by a program of nutrition, exercise and relaxation techniques has been shown to lower the incidence of blindness by 50% and neuropathy (numbness in the extremities) by 60%."
"The numbers are beginning to show that the single most important aspect of the program is the stress management part though," Scot mentions. What does this say about the spiritual connectedness that can come from meditation? "It's so clear that your spiritual being is intimately connected with your body and its health."
And, yes, it does make dollars and sense. "Once we finish accumulating the data from the Multi-Center Lifestyle Heart Trial ( five hospitals participating in the program, including one in Des Moines,) the other insurance companies will be forced to jump on board. They'd be foolish not to." ( Ed. note: There are a few other companies that support the Ornish Program, though in a lesser degree than Mutual.)
But for now, the people who brought you the Wild Kingdom are leading the way.
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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.
Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.
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